Stepping Up to Supervision - Always a Big Adjustment, Now a Major Challenge


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The step up from employee to supervisor has always been a big one. Taking on more assignments, getting work done through others, shifting from being a buddy to a boss - any one of these transitions is a handful. Today's supervisors have to hit the ground running.

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Stepping Up to Supervision - Always a Big Adjustment, Now a Major Challenge

  1. 1. STEPPING UP TO SUPERVISION Always a Big Adjustment ... Now a Major ChallengeBy Mark Marone, Ph.D., Senior Research Managerand Chris Blauth, Senior Product ManagerThe step up from employee to supervisor has tions. For thesealways been a big one. Taking on new assign- people the difficulty For many people thements, getting work done through others, shifting of the job outweighs difficulty of the jobfrom being a buddy to a boss—any one of these any excitement or outweighs anytransitions is a handful. Together, they can be pride they might feel excitement or prideoverwhelming, as any novice supervisor—or first- in being promoted.time manager, for that matter—can tell you. Their lives are they might feel in complicated enough being promoted.In the past, new supervisors had some time during already.their first weeks and months on the job to pick upwhat they needed to know. There were people To learn more about the performance expectationsaround—managers, other supervisors—who could supervisors face today—and how to prepareshow them the ropes, and even step in to help employees to meet them—AchieveGlobal recentlywhen the going got tough. conducted a survey of over 500 managers in the 1 United States, the United Kingdom, Europe, andThat was then. Today it’s a new world. Asia.Changes in the workplace have thrust these brand The results of this survey, together with Achieve-new managers of other people into positions of Global’s experience in helping organizationssuch pivotal importance that they have little time achieve success, helped shape our position onto get up to speed. Nor can they count on other today’s supervisor. We believe that both first-timepeople to show them the ropes. Today’s supervi- and experienced supervisors face a set of responsi-sors have to hit the ground running. bilities they may not be prepared for—responsibil- ities that may in fact be at odds with the abilitiesThis may explain why, according to Achieve- and attributes that got them promoted into super-Global consultants, more and more employees are vision in the first place.turning down promotions to supervisory posi-1. 273 managers in the U.S., 204 in the U.K., and 35 in Europe & Asia STEPPING UP TO SUPERVISION 1
  2. 2. SOME LONG-STANDING CHALLENGES ... NEW SUPERVISORS MUST LEARN TO BALANCE ...A new supervisor’s first week on the job is almost Former relationships with New working relationsalways an eye-opening experience. Having and friendships and arrangementsobserved their own supervisors in action, these Doing work yourself with Getting work donenovices often have a general idea of what’s through othersinvolved. What they don’t know is what super-vising feels like. Their efforts to find their footing Activities and tasks with Goals andare reflected in comments like the following: accomplishments• “Guys I’ve worked with for years look at me Management’s with Employee needs different now. I expected the kidding. What I expectations didn’t expect was getting frozen out. Maybe Organizational with Customer requirements this is what they mean when they say it’s lone- demands ly at the top.” Representing yourself with Representing the• “I get pressure to improve production, so I pass and your peers organization it on—and get resented for it. But I guess that’s just part of my job now. You gotta be tough on people.” ... AND THREE NEW REALITIES• “I miss doing my own work; it’s satisfying to know you’ve done something right. Now I Today, along with the “traditional” challenges, spend all my time dealing with complaints and there are some new realities AchieveGlobal emergencies and everybody’s ‘issues.’ It never believes all supervisors must contend with: ends.” 1. An uncommitted, diverse, and increasingly• “Management thinks they can cut back and cynical workforce still maintain good customer service. Well, 2. Constantly changing job duties they can’t—not unless every service rep works a lot harder. And then guess who gets the 3. More demands from the organization—but complaints? Guess who has to step in and take less support somebody’s shift when they don’t feel like These realities have raised the stakes consider- showing up?” ably, cut down on the margin for error, and made• “I wish everyone would realize I’m the same the job of managing other people much more person I was before I became a supervisor.” challenging.• “No matter how much I go over instructions, New reality #1: An uncommitted, diverse, and some people will mess it up. I never did that increasingly cynical workforce when I had their job.” Increasing diversity, an uncertain economy, and• “Where’s the work ethic any more, that’s what changes in relations between organizations and I’d like to know.” their employees have all had a big impact on Supervising today’s today’s frontline workersTogether, these comments describe a kind ofbalancing act starting supervisors must master if workforce takes and individual contribu-they are to successfully handle their new respon- special skill and tors—creating a need forsibilities. understanding. special skills on the part of those who manage them. 2 STEPPING UP TO SUPERVISION
  3. 3. • Older workers. Some older people today are seek- • More diverse workers. Many workers today differ ing to enter, or re-enter the workforce, either to educationally and culturally from the people make ends meet or to stay active during their who supervise them. This requires special sen- “retirement” years. Many employees are stay- sitivity on the part of supervisors—and extra ing on to maintain their health benefits, and/or time. If, for example, some employees don’t to augment their dwindling pensions. Many speak the language in which the instruction others, having turned down opportunities for manual is written, the supervisor may have to advancement, stay in their jobs longer than explain the procedures. they might have before. The frequent upshot: an age gap that can complicate working rela- New reality #2: Constantly changing job tionships. Older employees may not be inclined duties to take younger supervisors seriously. It takes a New supervisors are often promoted into super- certain amount of finesse to supervise someone vision because of their outstanding performance your father’s age. as individual contributors or frontline employees. In these positions they may have• Worn-out workers. More and more gained considerable satisfaction from For new supervisors, workers today have a second (or taking on a straightforward, sometimes third) job—working in a a lack of predictabil- predictable, often complex job and fast-food restaurant, for example, ity may be the most doing it well. As supervisors, their or cleaning houses. By the time they difficult aspect of responsibilities are harder to define get to their “main” jobs, they’re al- their jobs. and more likely to change from one ready tired and stressed out. day to the next. Supervisors today are used to a clear structure, and when they become• Angry and jaded employees. Supervisors today supervisors, they want to know where the guide- cannot assume that the people they manage lines are. The job is definitely less structured. have much of a commitment to the organiza- tion. Competitive pressures have forced many In this fluid environment, measuring success is companies to cut back on the perks, benefits, not always as cut and dried as it once was. It’s and pensions that were once taken for granted. not always easy to know what to do—or when It should come as no surprise that employees a job is done. It often seems as if it’s never done. are often demoralized, distrustful, and some- times actively hostile. The move up to supervision has always brought with it less regularly scheduled, concrete duties— Building commitment and motivation in such a handling emergencies, answering questions, and climate can be a real uphill battle. When it delegating work. These remain today— comes to organizational goals, employees have augmented by trends that make supervisory work always been somewhat cynical. Now they’re even less predictable: often angry as well. It can be difficult to sell a corporate vision to people who have had their • New processes. As companies streamline their benefits cut back. operations, supervisors need to spend more time learning new processes. They may have• Fractured families. More women working, more earned their stripes as the best operators on the men assuming child-care duties, more families factory floor. Now, however, the system is with child-custody and visitation concerns— completely computerized, their jobs don’t even these add to the supervisor’s challenge of ac- exist any more, and they suddenly find them- commodating employees, when necessary, and selves scrambling to master the new system. figuring out how to cover their jobs when they are gone. STEPPING UP TO SUPERVISION 3
  4. 4. • Less clear-cut lines of authority. Today, the com- • Disconnect between responsibility and authority. Even mand-and-control approach to getting work when supervisors are required to step up to done through others has given way in many or- new responsibilities, they may not be given the ganizations to collaboration, influencing, additional authority they need. In an effort to cross-functional partnerships, and joint efforts control costs, for example, an organization with outside organizations. Being a good su- may expand a supervisor’s job duties but fail to pervisor has never been simply about telling bump up his or her signing authority. someone to do something. These days, howev- er, an effective supervisor needs to be a very • Higher-stakes responsibilities. In the absence of skillful delegater, influencer, and persuader. To middle managers, supervisors may be given re- get the resources they need, they must get in- sponsibilities that managers shouldered in the volved in planning with other departments. past. For example, at an auto manufacturer, a committee that reviews the progress of a cross-• Collateral duties. Many supervisors today have functional team no longer has any members been given temporary duties beyond the scope from management—only supervisors, who of their jobs. It’s one way for an organization often have little familiarity with functions other to postpone creating and filling a position. For than their own. example, often production supervisors are put in charge of a special training function in addi- • Pressures to innovate. Many supervisors today are tion to their regular duties. under constant pressure to find ways to cut costs and improve work processes. Although• Under-supported technology. Although companies many supervisors rise to the challenge, they often tout the benefits of their technology, in must often do so without a lot of organization- fact their investment in upgrades and new sys- al support. It’s difficult to sustain this kind of tems has lagged. What this often means is that on-the-backs-of-the-workers effort for a long manual effort may be required to reap the ben- period of time. efits the technology was supposed to produce. So, for example, a supervisor may find herself • Dotting the ethical “i’s.” Supervisors, like other spending time to manually assemble produc- employees, are under pressure to conform to tion data that was supposed to be captured and new or reinvigorated ethical regulations. aggregated electronically. They’re often under pressure from their superi- ors to check and double-check the accuracy ofNew reality #3: More demands from the key reports. They also feel pressures (some-organization—but less support times conflicting) to report shoddy workPressures to do more with less, and do it faster, and/or quality lapses.are difficult for everyone, but they’re especially • Everything is everybody’s job. With organizationshard on the new manager stripped to the bone, everyone’s job has grown.or supervisor—especially Supervisors are “It’s not my job” has morphed into “It’s every-when traditional sources of expected to do body’s job.”formal and informalsupport are no longer more with less. • Fewer middle managers. With so many middleavailable. What this means management positions having fallen to theis that new supervisors not only have to hit the downsizer’s axe, supervisors often have no oneground running, they have to do so on their own. available for coaching and mentoring, either formally or informally. 4 STEPPING UP TO SUPERVISION
  5. 5. • Less formal support. Most organizations today provide less technical support, less IT support, IF I’D ONLY KNOWN and fewer engineering and financial services. We asked managers what they wished they’d Employees eventually learn to work around known when they first became supervisors. Here’s a these gaps. It’s more of a problem for new su- sampling of what they said: pervisors, who really need the help. • The corporate big picture and how to work it• Dog-eat-dog attitudes. Experienced supervisors • How to delegate who might once have offered assistance to the • How to win people over “newbie” are now too busy and stressed out to devote energy to any other interests than their • How to manage up own. Another factor is the internal competition • The difference between earning respect and that frequent job cuts can produce. Why go out earning friendship of your way to help a colleague, if in so doing you might help that person keep his or her job • How to trust my staff during the next round of layoffs, while you lose yours? thing of the past. They want supervisors who feel comfortable dealing with the ambiguity and uncertainty that accompany change. “FrontlineWHAT MANAGERS EXPECT FROM SUPERVISORS managers must be able to adapt to new andTo make sure its training solutions are responsive changing situations,” said one U.S. these challenges, AchieveGlobal conducted They must also be prepared to “communicateresearch in 2003 and 2004 to zero in on what changes and the reasons for them to the organi-thought leaders were saying, and also to identify zation’s people.”what the managers of supervisors saw as the Understanding the organization’s goals, and using themgreatest training needs. to motivate employees and determine work priorities.Here are the issues they identified, listed in the Managers, who wished they’d known moreorder of relative importance: about the corporate big picture when they started out, see this as even more critical for today’s newMotivating others. “Motivating is the key skill supervisors. They want supervisors who “arerequired in business,” said one U.K. manager. aware of the organization’s mission and goals,”Described by another as “getting employees to who have a “knowledge of the core business ofbelieve in what they are doing,” managers put the company,” and who “understand the compet-this skill at the top of their list. They recognize itive environment they are operating in.”that in this day and age commitment, creativity,and extra effort are required from everyone if the New supervisors are often unsure what theyorganization is to achieve its goals. It’s not should be spending their time on. They want toenough for employees to simply do their jobs; be told what to do, but sometimes there’s no onethey must feel the motivation to go that extra with the time to tell them—or no one whomile. knows. The only fixed point is likely to be the department’s or organization’s goals or objec-Adapting to new and changing situations—and helping tives. Everyone, supervisors included, needs toothers do the same. What new supervisors define as learn how to use them as their points of naviga-confusing job responsibilities, managers see as tion—and as motivating descriptions of themanaging change. Managers know routine is a future. STEPPING UP TO SUPERVISION 5
  6. 6. Establishing productive relationships with their needs, developing their abilities, makingmanagers. One of the challenges managers cite is resources available, and removing roadblocks.the need for supervisors to work more independ-ently while still keeping their managers in the Delegating. Managers indicated the skill of dele-loop. Often first-time supervisors expect too gating is vital to a new supervisor’s success—andmuch direction from their own managers. In also the most challenging. New supervisors andreality, senior leaders want supervisors who managers haven’t necessarily developed peoplereport to them to start exercising their own judg- skills; their focus too often tends to be on thement. At the same time, they want to work out a work itself, and how to do it, rather than on howform of communication that keeps both of them to assign projects in order to maximize commit-informed so there will be no surprises. ment and results.Making a smooth transition into supervision. In the A poor job of delegating can result in a disgrun-survey managers referred to two types of prob- tled employee, failed results, and a lot of extralems for first-time supervisors. On the one hand work for the supervisor. When delegating is donethey cited supervisors who were “above them- well, all the pieces of the puzzle come together.selves,” had a “big head,” and an attitude of Employees are motivated to contribute their best“their way is the only way.” work, they feel good about what they are doing, and they often gain valuable skills and experi-On the other hand, they saw problems with ence. Supervisors, for their part, can get thesupervisors who “have a hard time jumping in results they want with the least amount ofand taking charge,” who “shy away from conflict effort—without either over- or under-managingor reprimanding employees when necessary,” and the process.who in general “lack the confidence” to do agood job. Following through on assignments to ensure results is another aspect of delegating that super-Managers want supervisors to “do” less and lead visors need help with, according to the managersmore. “They need a better understanding of the in these surveys. Some inexperienced supervisorsdifference between leading and doing,” said one simply “dump and run,” assuming the job will berespondent. “They need to learn not to fear trust- done, and later become angry when they find outing their direct reports and to give them the otherwise. Others micro-manage, which in addi-freedom to learn and to fail.” “Technical experts tion to driving the other person crazy, alsopromoted to management need special coach- creates a passive employee who will never learning,” said one respondent. to work independently.Managers recognize the difficulty at the human Many managers fault new supervisors for a lacklevel for first-time supervisors. Respondents of planning. Novice supervisors often don’tspoke of the difficulty of moving “from being a realize how much thought goes into effectivefriend to being a leader.” So, while some delegation: Should the task be delegated? Whomanagers cited supervisors who “maintained would be the best choice? What kind of supporttheir loyalty to their old friends” to the detriment is he or she likely to need?of the work, others talked about the unrealisticexpectations for instant respect. “Respect, liketrust, must be earned,” said one manager. Theywant supervisors to shift their focus from thework to the people in their workgroups who dothe work—understanding and supporting their 6 STEPPING UP TO SUPERVISION
  7. 7. assessment of your actions over time. Once aMAKING THE MOST OF A TEACHING MOMENT frontline employee or individual contributorDespite all the challenges facing first-time super- steps up to supervision, everything they do andvisors and managers, there’s a big positive built say will be carefully noted by members of theirinto this transition: most first-timers soon recog- workgroup and others in the organization. Donize what they’re in for. They are usually very their words match their actions? Do they keepopen to—and even desperate for—help. their promises? Are they willing to take on the tough issues?• With so many new and unfamiliar responsibil- ities threatening to overwhelm them, they want There are several ways to build personal to know where to focus their efforts. credibility:• They need strategies • Respect others. they can master THE GOOD NEWS quickly that will • Acknowledge mistakes; admit it when you help them deal with Most first-time don’t have the answer; be willing to learn from as many as possible others. supervisors are open of the problems and to—and even • Follow through. issues they are likely to run up against desperate for—help. • Give others credit. from the very start. • Work hard to remove obstacles for your work• They want people skills they can put to imme- group and to get them the resources they need. diate use—and then build on as they gain in ex- perience and take on more responsibility. Being known as personally credible helps super- visors achieve success by: • Buying some slack when he or she may notTHREE HALLMARKS OF THE SUCCESSFUL know what to do or does the wrong thing—SUPERVISOR especially during the initial transition to super- visor.Thanks to its research, combined with years ofexperience helping organizations develop • Making it easier to convince others of new orproductive workforces, AchieveGlobal has iden- unpopular ideas or directives. If employeestified the three hallmarks most critical to enable trust their supervisor, in other words, they’ll befirst-time supervisors and managers to assume more likely to buy into what the supervisornew responsibilities and improve their ability to says.supervise the work of others: • Earning a novice supervisor or manager the• Building personal credibility right to exert leadership.• Activating work group commitment Hallmark 2: Activating work group commitment• Engaging management support These days, organizations cannot succeed simply by maintaining business as usual. Creativity andHallmark 1: Building personal credibility extra effort are required on the part of everyAs organizations become less hierarchical, posi- employee from the president to the frontlinetional authority means less as a hallmark of lead- worker. Successful supervisors and managersership than personal credibility. Personal credibil- know how to activate their employees’ energyity is neither an attitude nor a quality. It’s a and dedication.perception others form of you, based on their STEPPING UP TO SUPERVISION 7
  8. 8. Creating commitment begins with helping mutually supportive relationship with theiremployees see the connection between their daily managers by:activities and the organization’s goals. First, ofcourse, you need to know the organization’s • Knowing what’s important to the manager, andgoals yourself and understand the reasons behind working to support itthem. • Offering the manager solutions, not just prob- lemsSuccessful supervisors gain workgroup commit-ment by: • Periodically clarifying what they need from their managers• Creating a sense that the workgroup is doing something worthwhile • Keeping their manager up to date on any issues he or she is expected to report on• Showing how the work of each employee fits into the bigger picture • Asking directly for help when necessary, rather than waiting for the manager to offer it• Making sure employees have clear directions, and know how they will be measured Supervisors who enjoy strong relationships with• Listening carefully to employees, and providing their managers know they will be supported in supportive feedback on their performance their daily decisions because the manager has a clear and current understanding of the situation.• Including employees in idea-generating and de- The manager will therefore be more inclined to cision-making support the supervisor when he or she needs extra resources or to have obstacles removed.• Creating a sense of ownership of the workFully committed employees will use their owningenuity and dedication to “go the extra mile” A FOUNDATION FOR THE FUTUREto help reach organizational goals. The supervi- Even without a crystal ball, it seems clear thatsor can spend less time giving directions and future organizations are going to need moremaking sure everyone is doing his or her job, and employees at all levels who can work independ-more time on higher priorities. ently. As long as change continues as a dominant theme, supervisors will need to rely on the threeHallmark 3: Engaging management support strategies of success. These will give first-timeIt’s natural for novice supervisors and managers supervisors and managers the traction they needto focus on their workgroups. Successful supervi- to hit the ground running without losing theirsors, however, know that without a solid rela- balance. As they gain experience, they willtionship with their managers, they can’t count on encounter situations requiring new skills—the support they need to achieve results. coaching, resolving disputes, correcting perform- ance, and conducting performance evaluations—The best relationships are focused not on “pleas- but the three hallmarks will remain central toing the boss,” but on establishing an alliance their success.between partners. Supervisors can help develop a 8 STEPPING UP TO SUPERVISION
  9. 9. He earned a Ph.D. from Indiana University,ABOUT THE RESEARCH where he has held several academic posts. He isUtilizing an independent sample of managers of currently an adjunct professor of management atall levels—managers, senior managers, directors, the University of South Florida.vice presidents, and the C-level—an on-linesurvey was administered specifically focusing on In 2003 Mark co-authored a book on salesthe skills required for those new to the frontline performance, Secrets of Top-Performing Sales-or supervisory role. The survey was administered people.both in the U.S. and the U.K. in 2003 and in Asia He is also a member of the American Marketingand other European countries in 2004. Surveys Association and Marketing Research Associa-were completed by 273 U.S. managers and 204 tion.U.K. managers within organizations employing50 or more. In order to validate findings across Chris Blauth is senior product manager for lead-other geographic areas, a similar survey was ership with AchieveGlobal. Since joining thecompleted by 35 managers in Europe and Asia. AchieveGlobal product management team, Chris has been responsible for maximizing revenue for numerous products through the creation andABOUT THE AUTHORS execution of product management strategy. He also guides the organization to develop andMark Marone, Ph.D., is AchieveGlobal’s senior maintain products that meet the trainingresearch manager. He has more than 13 years of industry’s current and future needs. Chris’ recentacademic and private sector experience in accomplishments include the launch of Genuineresearch and consulting on issues such as LeadershipTM, AchieveGlobal’s newest leadershipeconomic development, corporate strategy, and product system. Chris also launched classroombusiness policy. His career includes being a senior sales training seminars and an asynchronousanalyst with Nielsen Media Research, where he Web-based tool designed to reinforce skillswas responsible for analyzing market data for taught in AchieveGlobal’s flagship saleskey national media accounts. He also served as program, Professional Selling SkillsTM. Chris hasdirector of research at the Global Business Infor- also facilitated AchieveGlobal’s popular salesmation Network, a research firm that provides performance and leadership courses. Prior tointernational consulting to businesses in the joining AchieveGlobal, Chris spent seven yearsMidwest. In addition, he spent several years as a with Leica Microsystems, Inc., holding financialmanagement consultant with KPMG, LLC, and analyst and product manager positions. Chrisas a client services manager with Sterling earned a B.S. (accounting and finance) from theResearch Group, Inc. University at Buffalo and an M.B.A. in marketing from Canisius College. Chris is a member of BetaMark has written extensively on topics such as Gamma Sigma Honor Society and the Americanhigh technology industries, economic develop- Management Association.ment, and corporate strategy in the telecommu-nications industry. He has been a featuredspeaker and presented research findings atnumerous international academic conferences. STEPPING UP TO SUPERVISION 9
  10. 10. ABOUT ACHIEVEGLOBALAchieveGlobal is the world leader in helpingorganizations translate business strategies intobusiness results by developing the skills andperformance of their people. We are a singleresource for aligning employee performance withorganizational strategy through training andconsulting solutions in customer service, leader-ship and teamwork, and sales performance.With offices throughout North America and apresence on every continent, we serve more than70 countries and offer programs and services inmore than 35 languages and dialects. We contin-ually adapt and translate our programs and serv-ices to meet the needs of global cultures. Strategy to Results Through People 10 STEPPING UP TO SUPERVISION ©2005 AchieveGlobal, Inc. No. M01068 v.1.0 (1/05)